The end of SEO?

Google is trying to get better and better at anticipating what we’re looking for whenever we search; that’s what Marissa Mayer has said. They have been making better use of geography, not just sensing our country and language but now asking us to say where we are so it can give us local results. Since last year, it has been using our search history, if we allow, to improve our searches. The universal search tries to freshen up results with news, multimedia, and more, and I sense that the algorithm is giving more weight to currency.

So here’s a question:

Is there a future for SEO? In a sense, Google’s search results were the last one-size-fits-all mass product around (since most other mass media are shrinking): the first screen of results for, say, wine was the same for you as it was for me. And search-engine placement has taken on asset value; in my book, I just wrote that Googlejuice may soon be as important a measurement of a company’s or brand’s value as EBITDA. This led to the birth of a gigantic SEO industry.

But as Google gets better at personal relevance through everything it knows about us — and it knows more and more — then your search for wine may be different from mine and there is no absolute value for placement in results and Googlejuice, no?

What does that mean to brands? The world gets confusing once more. But I think it means that true relevance becomes more important than SEO tricks. It also means that the more relationships you have with people — the more they talk about you and link to you and click on you — the better off you will be.

Researching a section of the book on Gary Vaynerchuk, wizard of wine at WineLibrary, I was astounded as his Googlejuice. When I search for wine his store comes up fifth on the first page, the second vendor after, which spent an untold fortune to build its brand. He didn’t. His relationships with fans — search for wine TV and he’s No. 1 — pushed him higher than any tricks with metadata in his web pages.

So does SEO get replaced by people? We can only hope.

  • I’ve always been of the belief that as long as you have nothing to hide then online privacy wasn’t much of an issue. With that in mind, I am still occasionally taken aback by the things that Google seems to know about me. As long as they continue to use that knowledge to provide me with more relevant information, I’m all for it. Their service is more valuable when they can provide the information we really want instead of what someone else really wants us to see.

  • I am unsure what the downside of this would be, but I like the idea of people or companies not being able to “trick” the system to put up illegitimate websites, in place of litigate websites. I have personally witnessed certain people doing this who I notice Google has targeted and gotten rid of. So far I have been impressed with how Google has worked to create a good search environment.

  • I like the idea that “Google’s search results were the last one-size-fits-all mass product.” I agree.

    On the other hand, I don’t see how the rise of personalized results will eliminate the need for SEO — slimy SEO tricks that get pages where they’re not relevant, yes. Best SEO practices that ensure relevant, authoritative pages show up for the right people, no.

    As Google generates broader sets of results for each query, their basic need to index pages won’t change, and good SEO will continue to help them do that.

  • Google does a great job of getting people to the content they know about and can rank properly. There is still plenty of content created every day that’s great yet hard for Google to understand due to on-site SEO issues. This makes Google’s job harder than it needs to be and hurts content creators who’ve done a good job outside of site architecture.

  • Many thanks for the provocative post. I’ve thought the same myself a number of times. My conclusion is that this not the end of SEO but a substantial shift in how SEO is done. A contextual search environment is emerging and SEO folks such as ourselves will need to stay on top of how search engines are refining the way that they collect and present results. The Bad news is, we’re going to have to work harder and longer. The old ways link blasting have given way to contextual linking. You don’t need as many and the ones that you get are harder to come by. Old school is giving way to new school…it happens all fo the time.

  • Jeff,
    Are we creeping closer to the day where the advertising industry can accurately target consumers through their known preferences – in other words, are we coming to the point where internet content can more easily be monetised through the long tail model?

  • I’d have to agree with the posters here who see a shift in the way SEO is done, rather than the end of SEO. I think your observations are correct, when we talk about personalization. But that ability to personalize just increases the importance to would-be marketers of reaching all those personalized pages. That requires making the pages relevant to as many people as possible – mostly by making the marketing site relevant in ways that SEO engines can understand.

  • It seems that everything that is old is new again. The only difference is that the recommended links are part of blog posts and profiles instead of those lists of sites that used to make up the web. Rember those days? Since it’s been my impression that Google, or any search engine, gives a good amount of weight to a site’s popularity rating (traffic, inbound links), it’s how I’ve always done SEM/SEO. As long as people are searching for and recommending the best answers and stuff this formula will work.

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  • interesting. agree w/ others that it’s certainly not the end of SEO…and also agree with you that influencers are the new cash cows. that’s worrisome. what are now relatively pure and real relationships in web 2.0 spaces will become polluted by the bullshit of clicks and $$$. the line between friend/follower and advertiser is gonna get blurry real soon…

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  • This is an interesting point you’ve raise, will social networking become more important than paid for SEO. It would be good if it did after all the whole purpose of the internet was to give power to the people as citizen journalists. Hopefully this will force companies to improve their offerings if they need to rely on customer reviews and referrels to gain success rather than busying their way to the top. Though viral marketing is making the whole system more corrupt which is a shame. Though forcing brands to get out there and interact with consumers is a good thing for relationship marketing. More companies should embrace it

  • It’s definitely not the end, and could possibly be the beginning for a whole new line of SEO services and products. Consider how Google works; it needs information to make determinations about what’s relevant and what’s not. Humans also need information about what’s happening with their SEM campaigns. Even with a futuristic flawless search engine you still need an SEO expert to do all the on-site work (e.g. title tags, blog set-up, etc.) and you need them to analyze the results (e.g. analytics, reporting, optimizing, etc.).

  • Google’s evolution is also forcing the companies that are trying to game the system to play fair. A relevant document is a relevant document for search. Adding irrelevant and generic keywords, tags, or anchor text will only begin to hurt a site’s visibility.

  • From my perspective, the SEO games we have to play to get a decent SERP too often stand in the way of writing content that is purposeful, relevant and engaging. Instead we need to make sure each page is optimized for a keyword phrase and pushing that keyword often de-optimizes writing simple, clear and understandable content.

    As Google gets better at recognizing contextual relevance to a particular customer, we will now be encouraged to write more and more helpful customer-centric content. That will result in a better customer experience and a better relationship with those vendors who show an understanding of customer needs.

    As a searcher myself, I want to get to content that is helpful to me. Too often, my personal searches do not bring back the content I want … at least not on Page One. I find myself frequently going out in the long tail to find the good stuff that will help me do my work better. The content in the long tail mostly is not jiggered for SEO, but is written about the subjects I want to learn more about.

    SEO won’t go away, but it will get better. And as a web writer, I won’t have to calculate keyword density. Writing is hard work but it will be more rewarding when it can stay focused on the customer instead of the spider.

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  • An interesting post but one that strikes me as missing a few points.

    It once again parrots the old “SEO = bad” line that so many who don’t work in the industry frequently come out with. What is so bad about designing a site so that the content within it can easily be found by people using search engines (I notice that this blog has nicely optimised URLs), and using good old fashioned marketing techniques to encourage people to link to it? Obviously spammy techniques are not to be applauded, but there is so much more to SEO than these sort of tricks.

    Most SEOs will actively encourage their clients to reach out to consumers and to provide them with engaging & interesting content in order to gain the links that are needed for SEO. How is doing this is in any way worse than traditional advertising (something that doesn’t seem to get half the stick of SEO, despite the fact that it is massively more ‘fake’)?

    As for the comment above that “the whole purpose of the internet was to give power to the people as citizen journalists”, I have to say that I missed that particular quote from Sir Tim Berners Lee. I thought it was to “to facilitate sharing and updating information among researchers” and that the rest was all just serendipity.

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  • There c ertainly is a future in SEO. Its known as content. I have spent way too much time optimizing sites for Google. Not enough time writing content.

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  • As noted above advertising will come from influencers… it does in traditional media who pay millions to use celebrities to endorse products. The question becomes does it make it easier to manipulate due to traditional herd mentality which also carries over online?

  • ian

    I’m assuming you wrote this to stir up some controversy after Shoemoney’s post a few weeks ago.

    Bottom line: SEO is more than “tricks with metadata”. As long as there are search engines, folks will want to move up. As long as they want to move up, there’ll be SEO.

  • Don’t know that. Have a link?

  • Jeff – I think that Ian is talking about this: Which is similar to this It’s why those of us who work in the trade get bored of this sort of post. I’ll let Danny sum it up better than I ever could

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  • Or perhaps, like cable companies and car salesman, you should hear what the public is saying about you.

  • Anyone who says the end of SEO is near or there is no future in SEO doesn’t know SEO.

    As long as there are search engines there will be SEO. The real question should be what will SEO be in 2,3, 5 years.

  • Methinks the SEO wizards doth protest too much. I wasn’t even attacking. Sensitive and skittish lot.

  • How can anyone keep up with all of the SEOs when it constantly changes as search engines adapt to the trick of the trades? It’s hard as is to learn all of the know-hows based on the current system, how can anyone keep up w/ the speed that Google continues to change the game.

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  • Jeff – we probably are an over-sensitive lot and I appreciate what you say about what the public says about us.

    My point, and one I think Danny makes much better in the post I linked to, is that the public aren’t saying that. They don’t know what SEO is, and when they do find out they’re keen for advice – the people who say this sort of stuff are generally the bloggerati.

    And whilst you may not have meant to attack, when one’s career is frequently put down, phrases such as “let’s hope so” & “tricks” tend to get the hackles up – but maybe that’s our issue rather than yours.

    Like I said before, it’s an interesting post, with some good points, and doesn’t change the fact that I always enjoy your blog & your columns in The Guardian

  • Speaking as another non-SEO type, I’ve just taken a look at the SEMPO site – is it fair to say this is the main body representing SEO professionals out there?

    I only ask as I’ve never heard of them. And having looked through their site, they look more like an advocacy group, rather than a typical professional body.

    Would it be possible for them to develop guidelines, recognised professional qualifications, a means of accountability and the like?

    Basically, until SEO is professionalised in the same way traditional jobs are, and their professional body is given teeth like most other professional associations have, the public will surely continue to be confused around SEO.

  • Networks, by their mere existence, are not liberating; They exercise novel forms of control that operate at a level that is anonymous and non-human (Material).

    Read The Exploit by: Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker.

    Its either we choose the provisional response from a Determinist Argument and so we can hope for universality and ubiquity….. Or we choose the provisional response from a Nominalist Argument and we then can hope for more occultism and cryptography.

  • I think SEO will always have a place as long as there are search engines. The way we conduct our optimization and our goals for optimizing may change but it will remain. I could see things shifting more towards content being very heavy in importance and I don’t think local search results would be that bad. If we have more local result it would make it easier for search engine users to find local businesses they might be searching for and it might make it easier to do SEO for local companies wanting to get a piece of a general search term – for example searching for “dog kennels” would return local results too.

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  • I do hope you’re right, Jeff. I’d love to be able to tell clients and others that the best way to get search results is to post the best content and not bother with any SEO issues. I do think trickery ultimately will hurt. But it’s hardly, yet, a world in which simple good practices for the users — journalistic, informational, community even technological — lead to the best search engine results.

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  • Hey there, I discovered your site a little while ago and have been reading through all the info slowly. I thought would post my comment and just say hi there & let you know I really enjoy your site so far. Will definately be stopping by to read more when I have a bit more time !


  • this is true? i never heared this news. Because if SEO ends there are lots of people will suffer.

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  • My conclusion is that this not the end of SEO but a substantial shift in how SEO is done. A contextual search environment is emerging and SEO folks such as ourselves will need to stay on top of how search engines are refining the way that they collect and present results. The Bad news is, we’re going to have to work harder and longer.

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  • In a way it is the end of SEO. I think tricks are going to count less with google and it is going to be pure content that matters. Google is smarting than SEO tricksters.

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